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Panhandle Passages: Dreaming of a White … Mother’s Day

The Mother's Day bison.
The bison photographed on Mother’s Day at Fort Robinson State Park.

My friends, family and other followers know that I try to post one nature photo each weekday to Facebook and Twitter. It’s a fun exercise, and I’m sometimes surprised to discover which photos generate the most reaction among friends on followers on social media.

It seems some photos that get the best response take the least amount of work. Others, of which I’ve forged an emotional attachment because of their technical difficulty or the hike and planning involved to get them, are greeted with yawns. A fine example is the above photo of I shot last weekend.

The kids and I accompanied my wife Cricket to the annual Mother’s Day buffet at Fort Robinson State Park’s restaurant. Last year on Mother’s Day, we had beautiful spring weather as we dined at the High Plains Homestead, visited Toadstool Geologic Park, Coffee Park and a drive through the beautiful grasslands of Sioux County. This year, the weather treated us a little differently.

We left rainy Chadron and were greeted with heavy snow as we arrived in the Crawford area. After dining on the tasty meal and making some purchases at the gift shop, we scurried to the truck to avoid the wet heavy snow that was still falling.

Despite the snowfall, no snow had accumulated on the roads. I became inclined to drive up Smiley Canyon to see if there were in photographic scenes waiting to be captured. For me, it’s a little more difficult to find the beauty in snow this time of year than it is in early winter, but you have to try. I knew we’d see a bison or two along the route, and was not disappointed.

Most people who have shot photos in heavy snow know that the camera’s autofocus tends to get a little confused. If the camera had a voice, it would be saying “which snowflake do you want me to capture, dummy?”

So, when using a long telephoto lens in heavy snow, it’s imperative to go manual focus so your eye and not a machine can determine the subject. Thankfully, a bison is usually cooperative enough that my manual focusing pace can match the animal’s speed, or lack of it.

I shot the photo from the road, from my truck, as Cricket and the kids watched. Not real tough. But, naturally, that photo garnered more attention on social media this week than any other one I posted. Wish it were always so easy.

From there, we continued up the canyon. By the time we got to the top, enough snow had accumulated on the road to make my wife question my driving proficiency and whether or not the trip was such a treat, regardless of how delicious the buffet was. Keeping her calm might have been the toughest part about getting the shot.

In summary: Keep Momma happy; a photo’s subject is important; and bison and “unseasonable” Nebraska weather are usually popular photo subjects. Now, as most of the snow has melted and put us ahead of the average on moisture in these parts, I look forward to photographing bison among green pastures and wildflowers — regardless of how popular the end product may be.

If you’re interested, here are the other photos I posted this week:

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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